Friday, April 29, 2005

The Doldrums...

Sometimes writing is hard. It’s a painful, wrenching task that offers no joy, no happiness, and no reward. I hate times like that, and I’m going through one right now. Writing is not appealing. Work is just something to occupy my time, and even riding my bike is a chore. When I get out of bed in the morning and the prospect of riding to work fills me with dread, it’s not going to be a good day.

My enthusiasm and my ideas ebb and flow. Sometimes writing is easy. The words almost flow through my fingertips onto the page. It’s magical. Whole columns seem to write themselves with little effort on my part.

Days like today are the low points, of course. I still ride to work because we have only one car, and my daughter uses it for school. Taking it away from her simply because I’m feeling depressed and lazy just wouldn’t be right.

Besides, there’s always someone out there is in a worse situation. For instance, I’ve been reading the Riverbend blog written by a woman in Baghdad. She writes about not having dependable electricity or sufficient potable water. My whining, moaning, and writing are pitifully small concerns by comparison. There’s nothing like a little perspective.

But there have been a few things worth mentioning this week even though I haven’t posted daily.

On Tuesday, I attended a meeting of the Bicycle Advisory Group, a subcommittee of the Transportation Committee at INCOG, the Indian Nations Council of Governments. INCOG does the regional transportation planning for the area around Tulsa, and the BAG provides feedback and advice on bicycling issues. In short, the Tulsa trail system and the on-street bicycle route program are proceeding. I’m particularly excited about the on-street program, because it’s designed to link neighborhoods with popular destinations like parks, shopping areas, and employment. Tulsa’s trails are nice, but they have limited utility value in that they don’t link neighborhoods with those many of those other destinations. The trails are primarily recreational. But if T. Boone Pickens is to be believed, gasoline will reach the $3/gallon level before the end of the year. We’ll have many more cyclists on the roads.

Other topics were: Bike to Work Days, Commute Another Way Day, and some legislative news. The BTW and CAWD draw a lot of cyclists in the downtown area, though we’d all be happier if the numbers were bigger. And in legislative news, INCOG staff will compile a list of area bicycle laws. As you go from one municipality to another, the laws change, particularly the mandatory sidepath law. Uniformity would be nice.

We have another Road1 class coming up soon. I have to get a Community Cycling Project bike overhauled before the class. Sandra has a nice mixte sitting in her garage that will most likely be the one I work. I’m planning to take the repair stand, some tools, and a wheel-truing stand to the class in order to work on bikes there and provide demonstrations for the students. Brian Potter and Gary Parker are teaching this one. Brian said I might do the repair lecture too.

This touches on one of the issues we discussed at the INCOG meeting too. The Community Cycling Project provides bicycles as transportation to Exodus House clients, non-violent ex-offenders who live at Exodus House as they re-enter society. We provide the Road1 class in order to allow them to use their bicycles for everyday transportation. But as is usual with such programs, funding and volunteers are scarce. Someone is pursuing grant money for us, but that’s somewhere off in the future. Sandra estimated the instruction, bicycle, and accessories cost the program around $200 per client, most of it covered by donations.

So here’s the pitch – if anyone has a couple thousand dollars or even a few hundred thousand lying around gathering dust (as if!), send it our way! Seriously though, if you’re in the Tulsa area and you’re interested in bicycle advocacy, we could use volunteers even more than money. There are seldom enough hands for the work.

(I’ll be riding into a stiff headwind on the way home tonight, and it’s unseasonably cold. That usually means leg cramps, and enough Icy Hot to make my eyes water!)

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Cartoon of the author by the Phantom Cartoonist. Posted by Hello

I'm depressed.

Today’s paper said that oil could exceed $100 per barrel. On a personal level, this is a mixed bag. I’ll elaborate on that below.

$100 oil more than fantasy

By RUSSELL RAY World Staff Writer

When Goldman Sachs suggested in a recent report that oil could spike to as high as $105 a barrel, crude prices surged and Goldman was denounced for steering the market to improve its trading positions.

But the prospect of oil spiking above $100 a barrel is not a far-out notion found only in fantasy.

…So, if one major supply disruption can push oil prices to triple digits, imagine the levels prices would rise to amid two major disruptions. What's more, think of the price you'd pay at the pump if
oil rose above $100.

I can see people pushing their SUVs off cliffs, leaving them on the side of the road to rust or using them as backyard forts for the kids.

Some aren't waiting for prices to rise that high.

…Bill Sherman, the Tulsa World's religion writer, recently began pedaling to work. Twice a week, Bill leaves home on his 10-speed bike and pedals five miles to our downtown office.

He does it for the fresh air, the exercise and, of course, the savings in fuel costs.

"I like doing it," Sherman said. "It saves me about $2 a day."

…Ironically, $80 to $100 oil may be the only way to bring prices back down to more affordable levels. Barring a large new source of oil, only a sharp sustained increase in oil prices will reduce the world's thirst for crude, Goldman said in its report.

I remember the ominous forecast former ExxonMobil geoscientist Arthur Green delivered to a group of Tulsa geologists last October.

He said the oil industry is on the verge of entering its most challenging phase -- a period when the production of oil peaks and oil prices rise to new heights.

"The world is going to shudder," Green said.

Rising oil prices will cause an increase in alternative transportation modes like cycling, walking and public transportation. I believe this is a good thing, not because I hate automobiles or their drivers, but because I believe it’s a responsible environmental choice. Simply drilling more wells is an irresponsible choice. But I’ll refrain from another rant about the Bush administration’s energy policy, for now.

Like nearly everyone else in this country, I depend on truck deliveries for food and other essentials. When fuel prices rise, the prices of those delivered goods rises too. That money comes directly out of the family budget, so if we spend more for food, there’s less to spend somewhere else. This basic principle seems to be lost on our political class.

But that’s a minor consideration compared to this: My job depends on oil prices to some extent. I work for a major airline. I won’t go into the logic, or more likely, the LACK of logic of having bankrupt carriers set the fare structure. I won’t write about the competitive advantage that bankruptcy brings. No, my concerns are much more visceral, much more personal. I could lose my job, and believe me, that’s a gnawing worry centered in my gut, the kind of worry that brings me wide-awake at 3 AM.

I’ve already had to make a fresh start twice. When the bike shop went under, I left Pittsburgh with less than $100 to my name. If it weren’t for some friend’s generosity, I would have been living on the street. Years later, Mary and I packed up our few belongings and moved to Tulsa. We had a baby on the way, and I needed a job. Both times were difficult and a little scary, but neither compares to the prospect I face now.

I’m fifty-three years old. My kids are teenagers and one will be graduating from high school next year. She wants to go to college. Will the money be there? Will we be able to afford it? I have no idea, but I do know that if my job goes down the tubes, her opportunity will most likely go with it.

I’ll be eligible for early retirement in two years. That’s an especially cruel joke. I can’t afford to retire yet, but when I do, will any kind of retirement be available? The airlines got many employees to retire in the 90s and just after 9/11. Now the companies seem determined to dump their retirement plans onto the taxpayers, effectively pulling the rug out from under their retirees. Add that to those gnawing 3 AM worries.

But for now, I’ll make a stack of pancakes for our breakfast. There’s nothing quite like comfort food to take care of gnawing worries.

Saturday, April 23, 2005


(I'm planning to re-use some of the material I've contributed to the Red Dirt Pedaler's newsletter "Wheel Issues", mainly when I'm short on ideas! Here's a column from last fall when my morning commute was well before sun up.)

The scariest part of my ride to work is the occasional too-close encounter with a skunk or a dog in the pre-dawn darkness. Dogs magically appear right next to my knee. And skunks ALWAYS have the right-of-way, no exceptions. But the most dangerous part of the ride is the trip across the parking lot at work. Let's just say that some of my co-workers have little regard for other motor vehicle traffic, stop signs, or even lane markings. Pedestrians and cyclists rank much further down their list.

Today's ride was different.

Before getting to that, however, let me tell you that I was one of those kids with an over-active imagination. My friends and I made the obligatory trips to the Lamp Theater to see those classic vampire movies from the Hammer studio as well as all the Japanese rubber monster movies. The truly scary part was the long walk home in the dark. My friends lived down in the valley, but I was faced with climbing the hill through the woods. I was certain the vampires lurked in those woods! It was a huge relief to get home, climb into bed, and pull the blankets up around my neck for protection.

Since last summer, one of the streets on my regular route has been under construction. I still go through that section before dawn and long before the workers arrive. There's no motor vehicle traffic all the way south to 56th Street. It's pleasant and quiet, but very, very dark down there under the pecan trees.

This morning something started howling in the woods off to my left. It could have been a coyote, but the howl wasn't like any coyote I'd ever heard. Since the wind was calm, it seemed very close, almost within a few yards of the road. I looked over that way with the helmet light, but the undergrowth was too thick to see anything. Then a little further down the road, something started a high, piercing scream. Maybe it was a bird or a bobcat. I still couldn't see anything, and my mind started playing 'what if' games. What if a hungry pack of coyotes charged from the woods? What if a rabid dog half-mad with hunger started trailing me? What if it was the infamous chupacabra, the goatsucker of Mexican legend, or one of those childhood vampires? What if it was a squad of Russian paratroopers? (I have vivid nightmares involving Russian paratroopers - don't ask.)

Then something crashed through the bushes right next to me! I looked again, but there was nothing to see. Adrenaline increased my speed and I sprinted up the last little slope leading out of the valley. The rest of the ride to work was nearly effortless and very fast!

Wednesday, April 20, 2005


I have a co-worker I’ll call Jay. He’s a nice guy, really, and I don’t have any beef with him. But he’s also a ‘trendie’, a first adopter of anything new, glitzy, and high-tech. Does anyone make a coffee mug that has GPS, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth? Jay probably has one already, and he’s on the list for the next generation device.

We all know someone like him, and in fact, it’s good to know such people especially if they’re cyclists. They’ll have last year’s titanium widget for sale in order to get this year’s titanium widget. Cycling Luddites (like me!) benefit by getting parts and tools that have already seen some wear, but still have a long, useful life ahead of them.

That’s why I was surprised when Jay asked about riding fixed gears. He strikes me as a full-Campy Litespeed kinda guy. But he was seriously interested. We talked fixies for nearly an hour one morning. I gave him the URLs for some popular fixed gear sites. He made the rounds of the shops and discovered that they stock precious little fixed gear stuff. He did find out that he should be riding a 57-58 cm frame, and that while it’s possible to convert his old Motobecane to a fixed gear, it’s small 52 cm size would make him uncomfortable. Somewhere in the rounds of the bike shops, someone recommended he ride a 61 cm frame! I have to find out who did that!

Down at Tom’s, one of the guys recommended looking on E-Bay. (This is one of the reasons I like that shop so much. They want to do right by the customer rather than make a quick buck. In the long run, that’s the best approach to any business.) Jay found and bought a Takahara in his size, and it should be delivered next week.

Of course, if he rides it a while and doesn’t like it, the bike just happens to be MY size too!

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Old bike stuff...

This is like the argument between the automobile collectors and the hot-rod enthusiasts. When there’s a limited quantity of some item, say, a 1955 Chevy coupe, is it better to restore the car to original condition or turn it into a hot rod? It’s the same with collectible bikes, I think.

There’s a finite quantity of older steel framed road bikes. Personally, though I’d love to have a pristine example of a top-of-the-line road bike from the 1970s or earlier, realistically I know that I would ride the thing a lot, thereby reducing it’s value. Worse, I might even convert it to a fixed gear. I guess that makes me more akin to the hot-rodders. So I’m better off buying a good quality mid-line bike that I can use and use hard. I’d dearly love to have a ‘wall hanger’, a lovely Paramount, Mercian, or something similar with those curvy Nervex lugs, but the temptation to ride it would be overwhelming, I’m afraid. None of my bikes have ever been in concours condition. They’re usually spotty with mud and sloppy chain lube, and have enough spilled Gatorade on the down tube to attract bees.

I’ve been following the Classic Rendezvous list for some time. It’s an e-mail list devoted to older collectible bikes. Some of the people on the list have an amazing wealth of arcane information. Currently, the cutoff date for a classic on that list is arbitrarily set at 1984. Of my four bikes, two are older than 1984 and both of them are fixed gear conversions.

Why four bikes? Wouldn’t just one do? Most of my riding is the daily commute, so two of the bikes are set up as commuters. If I discover a flat tire in the morning out in the garage, there’s no worry about getting to work on time. I just switch bikes. Or if it looks like rain, I ride the one with fenders.

The other two are racing bikes. One is a Giant CFR that I’ve used for both criteriums and time trials. The other is my ancient Pennine that’s a dedicated TT bike. It’s also a lot of fun to ride around on a nice day – i.e. little wind. A calm day is a rarity in Oklahoma.

But there are other bikes out in the garage, lurking in corners and waiting to pounce. There are three, yes, three, Raleigh Tourists. These are ancient 3 speeds with rod brakes and enormous 28-inch wheels. I had one as a mountain bike back before mountain bikes were invented. These things are TOUGH! And the ride is something that everyone should experience at least once. The Raleigh wheelbase is about 46 inches. These bikes are LONG! And if you want one to turn tomorrow, you’d better start initiating the turn today. Their weak point is the steel rim. It hasn’t been manufactured for nearly 25 years and it’s impossible to find replacements. I’m considering getting these re-chromed, but as in all of my projects, money is an issue.

There’s an old Schwinn High Sierra that was converted to a single speed. Jordan wants it for a beater, but he has to learn how to do an overhaul first. For that matter, he has a Nishiki road racer, his old Schwinn BMX racer, and a BMX beater out there too.

My seventeen-year-old daughter has a nice Trek hybrid that is collecting a thick layer of dust, as is her mountain bike. She has my car keys firmly in hand now, and it would be a major faux pas to be seen on a bicycle around town.

The Burley tandem is hanging from the rafters gathering dust too. It’s the family Peterbilt, nearly as fast as a big tractor-trailer rig, and about as nimble. I enjoy riding it, but I have trouble talking my kids onto the stoker seat. There’s a Schwinn Aluminum hanging from the rafters too, another TT project that is currently in stasis.

For those of you keeping score at home, the total is up to 15! There are 2 Community Cycling Project bikes waiting for clients, so the real total is 17. I’m guessing, but I suspect that 7 of the family bikes are older than 1984. Does that make me a collector or just a guy with a garage full of bike junk?

Monday, April 18, 2005

A Sunday group ride...

I went on a Freewheel training ride in Tulsa yesterday. Normally I avoid group rides, but I wanted to observe a large group of cyclists in an urban setting – lots of stop signs and red lights. Too often, group rides bring out the worst groupthink – running red lights and stop signs en masse.

One of my friends rode with this group on Saturday. Sandra’s a regular commuter and vehicular cyclist. To the unacquainted, that means she rides her bike following the same rules of the road as any motor vehicle. To some cyclists, that’s an astounding idea. She generally rides in the right hand tire track, stops where appropriate, signals her turns, etc.

We rode side-by-side most of the time. And we collected a self-appointed traffic cop right behind us. “Car back!” he yelled, and when we didn’t dive for the right-hand verge, he’d yell louder. “CAR BACK!” I don’t know if he was getting on my nerves more than I was getting on his, but when a lane is too narrow to share with a motor vehicle, riding single file is pointless. It makes the group twice as long and more difficult to pass. In Tulsa, riding two abreast is legal, though that wasn’t always the case.

Another pointless idea: releases for group rides. (I really am a whiner today, aren’t I?) This local club requires everyone to sign a liability release before joining one of their club rides. I’ve never signed one. First, I don’t want to be on their mailing list. Second, the ride is on public roads, roads that I have an equal right to use. Third, if the ride leaders do something stupid (like yelling “Clear!” at an intersection) and someone gets hurt, the club should be liable and deserves to be sued. Lastly, if something truly awful happens, there’s no record that I was ever present.

They require everyone to wear a helmet too, something that’s not legally required by Oklahoma law. Again, if the ride is over public roads I can ride sans helmet. There’s not much a club can do about it. (Well, they could turn up the pace and drop me, not that it’s too difficult!) I’m tempted to show up without a helmet just to see the reaction.

We were riding toward the back of the bunch, the fast guys long gone and out of sight. Somewhere downtown, I saw the only red light runner of the day – ME! We were descending a small hill. I’d pulled out a water bottle with my left hand just as the light ahead changed. I’d almost reached the stop bar as it happened, but there was no way I could have stopped using the back brake alone. My bad. Sandra gave me hell about it too.

We left the Freewheel route and started off toward home. Both of us rode to the start from our homes, so doing the whole ride wasn’t really necessary. Sandra showed me her regular commute route up to the base of the hill to her house. We parted there and I pushed on toward my house with the wind at my back. My legs were starting to hurt and my neck and shoulders were stiff and sore. The tail wind was a blessing! And I was almost out of water.

I was feeling the effects of dehydration, so I stopped at the Oxley Nature Center for more water. The Center has refrigerated fountains, not just regular fountains as found in the rest of the park. I drank an entire bottle in the next 2 miles and felt much better. Still, when I got home, I’d lost almost 3 pounds due to dehydration. No wonder I was feeling puny. I spent the evening drinking lots of water, downing a few ibuprofen tablets, and reeking of Icy Hot.

It was a good day!

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Stupid motorist trick...

We've all seen the run-of-the-mill stupid motorist tricks - the left hook, the right hook, and the oh-my-god-I-swear-I-never-saw-him-officer as they pull out in front of us from a side street. I experienced a brand new one today, a modified left hook.

I was traveling east on a 4 lane arterial with a 'suicide' lane in the middle. It doesn't have traffic islands, so the whole thing is a left turn lane. I merged left across the 2 travel lanes into the suicide lane. There was minimal traffic so this was easy. But as I approached the turn for my neighborhood, a car came by on my right, then started to merge into the lane right beside me! She was planning to make the same left turn, the only problem was that one of those pesky, uppity cyclists was in the way.

I started shouting in her window, "Don't you even THINK about it!"

She was startled and turned to stare at me. I made the turn and she followed into the neighborhood, remaining a safe distance behind me.

Sometimes it pays to be a loudmouth.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Ride with a kid...

It’s a beautiful day here in northeast Oklahoma! The temperature is hovering at 80F and there’s a light south wind. I successfully procrastinated long enough to avoid cleaning out the garage, and slipped out the door for a ride with my son.

Jordan is still feeling puny from getting sick about 2 weeks ago. He has a lingering, ‘croupy’ kind of cough that he’s had since he was a baby. He was a month premature and one of his lungs collapsed. We’ve fought off asthma and made more than a few late-night trips to the emergency room when his breathing was labored. Fortunately, at fourteen years old, he seems to have outgrown that. It’s a relief. But whenever he gets a cold, the croupy cough comes back.

So he was lagging behind on today’s ride. We didn’t go far – maybe about 10 miles at most – and he was complaining about riding into the wind when we started. It was a very, very easy ride. I was on the Pennine, and it was set up for last week’s TT. When I was climbing slowly, it tended to be a little difficult to control at low speed while I looked back over my shoulder.

We stopped to be ‘bridge peepers’ at about the halfway point. The term came from one of my friends back in Pennsylvania. His office window overlooked a very nice trout stream that crossed under a bridge nearby. For weeks before the beginning of trout season, the bridge peepers would stop and peer into the water looking for fish. So Jordan and I were bridge peepers today, but we were looking for bass. The water here is too warm for trout. Too bad. Trout taste better.

Coming back into town, we were riding side-by-side when a car came up to overtake us. Jordan rode the right hand fog line, then veered off the road into a driveway and onto the grass verge. Meanwhile, I continued in a straight line. “What are you doing?” I asked. “Don’t think you’re being courteous to drivers by going off the road. You just increase your chances for a fall. Besides, riding way over on the right almost invites drivers to attempt passing when there isn’t really enough room.”

He thought about this for a while, and then blew through a stop sign in a neighborhood.

“Did you see that sign?” I asked.

“Yeah, but by then it was too late”, he replied.

“Yep, they’re hard to see since they’re so big and red and all. Do you want to drive a car someday?”

Jordan knew better than to come back with some wise-guy retort. He was quiet for a couple of blocks. Then he asked, “How do you avoid the cars?”

“A cyclist is supposed to follow the same rules of the road as any motorist”, I said. “That means everyone acts pretty much the same way and it makes traffic predictable. Imagine what would happen if people just decided that driving on the right side of the road wasn’t necessary. It would be chaos and the accidents would be everywhere!”

By then we were riding up the hill to the house. He lagged behind most of the way. Suddenly, I heard the sound of tires accelerating on pavement. He sprinted by me and got to the house first, thus ‘winning’ today’s ride. But there was something else going on during this ride. I was impressed with his silences and his questions. They show there really is something in his brain other than thoughts of teenage girls and video games.

Friday, April 15, 2005

We were in Pennsylvania for a funeral. In order to decompress a bit, I went out for a long walk on Sunday. It was a gorgeous spring day there. The leaves aren’t out yet so I could see a long way through the woods. I spotted 8 deer and 4 turkeys. They all saw me first, of course, and by the time I realized they were there, they’d hit high gear and were accelerating.

But this is supposed to be bike-related, after all, so I have to include some other observations. I drove and walked along several highways. They’ve changed significantly since I lived there. For one thing, both the state and national highways had wide, paved shoulders. They’d definitely be suitable for bicycles except for one thing. They had eight inches of snow about 2 weeks ago and these wide shoulders were covered with cinders in places.

The same thing happens here in Oklahoma except that the road departments use sand. LOTS of sand! In fact, one of my commute routes looked like a beach most of last summer until the county decided they could sweep up all that sand and re-use it. None of the road departments around here engage in regular street sweeping, so whatever debris lands on the paved shoulder stays there until rain washes it away or a passing motorist bunts it off the road.

Still, that area of rural Pennsylvania is popular with cyclists because there’s a nearby state park with some paved trails and the roads have little traffic. Those wide shoulders are attractive, too if a cyclist rides primarily for recreation. There’s the rub. The majority of cyclists are indeed out for recreation, but not all.

Wide shoulders are defacto bike lanes. I don’t like bike lanes for several reasons. I’ve already touched on the debris problem, but there are two other substantial ones. First, bikelanes complicate intersections and intersections are where most crashes take place. There’s an especially bad design on the cover of a federal publication showing a through bike lane to the right of a right-turn only lane. Unfortunately, bad design is all too common. Also, bike lanes breed complacency for both motorists and cyclists. Motorists believe that cyclists will never move to the left of the paint stripe. Cyclists believe that motorists will never move to the right of it. Again, this complicates their maneuvers at an intersection.

Statistics say that less than 8% of bicycle/motor vehicle collisions result from a car hitting a cyclist from behind, yet about 60% involve failure to yield at an intersection (regardless of fault). Many cyclists fear getting hit from behind, a fear that while not entirely baseless, is exaggerated by some facilities advocates as a means of getting more bikelanes. But those lanes are a solution to an almost negligible problem. Is it good public policy to spend tax monies for such dubious reasons? I don’t think so.

Lots of people say they “feel safer” in a bicycle lane. While there are some pitfalls in reasoning by analogy, consider this – do beginning motorists “feel safer” in the slow lane of a high-speed highway? Of course not! New drivers almost universally attend a driver’s education course designed to give them basic knowledge of the rules of the road and motor vehicle operation. The courses include several hours of behind-the-wheel experience under the guidance of a qualified instructor. Yet for cyclists regardless of age or experience, too often the only instruction is something like “wear your helmet and stay away from the cars”.

A lot of supposedly experienced cyclists are scared silly about riding in traffic. They ride all sorts of convoluted routes to avoid an imaginary death trap. They simply don’t have the knowledge or experience necessary to believe that riding in traffic is possible. (Motorists seem to have even less knowledge about cyclists. As supporting evidence, I offer the guy who told me he was going to call the cops because I was riding on the street!)

But there is a solution. It’s bicycling education. The League of American Bicyclists (or the League of American Wheelmen, if you’re an old fart like me!) offers various levels of instruction intended for children, parents, raw newbies, experienced cyclists, commuters, and even motorists. The Texas Bicycle Coalition has the Super Cyclist program aimed at grade school children. There are others like the Boy Scouts cycling merit badge program and various bicycle rodeos.

I thought there was little I could learn about cycling, but I was wrong. The LAB Road1 course taught me precisely how to ride in traffic, making all my riding both more enjoyable and safer. Sometimes you really can teach an old dog new tricks! If Road1 is offered anywhere near you, please consider taking it. The cost is about the same as a good tire. It’s very possible you’ll come away with a few new tricks too.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

7 April 2005

We've had a death in the family. As a result, I probably won't be able to post anything for about a week.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Ride like a kid!

That’s one of the appealing aspects of riding a fixed gear. I go out the door and ride at whatever pace seems right. There’s no fiddling with gears. It’s all about RIDING, not equipment. And while I admit that the low maintenance and simplicity are strong points, it’s still the ride that counts. Kids don’t worry about cadence and heart rates. They just ride for the sheer joy of it. I think that’s one of the reasons cycling attracts those of us who want to feel like kids again!

But there are several things I haven’t tried yet on a fixie. Adults know their limitations. Kids don’t.

Skid stops. No kidding! I’ve ridden a fixed gear off and on for nearly 30 years, and that’s one thing I haven’t done. I probably won’t do it ever. My weight is hovering at about 215. I break stuff, and then I have to fix it. Reliability is a factor when riding to work and back, so there’s little reason to over-stress the drivetrain, and I really want to avoid being forced to walk after something breaks.

“Stoppies” – the opposite of a wheelie. Actually, I’ve done some stoppies, but never on purpose. Braking hard causes any bike to transfer weight to the front wheel. The only difference with a fixed gear is that you can FEEL the loss of traction at the rear wheel. I regard it as a good thing because it warns of the adhesion limit. It’s also the main reason I prefer a fixed gear on wet roads.

For that matter, I’ve never done a wheelie, except for an accidental heavy-handed application of throttle on my old motorcycle. It was something I didn’t repeat. I’ll pop a wheel up in the air to ride over a curb on the bicycle, but there’s no way I’d try to keep it aloft! Hey! I’m 53 years old, and it takes too long to recover from falls. Then again, I’m not too bright sometimes, and I have to explain my actions to She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed with the highly unpopular, “Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time!”

Riding backwards. This is possible on a fixed gear, but again, I’ve never tried it. See ‘falls’ above!

Attempts at a track stand have been…well, let’s just leave it at ‘embarrassing’. Long, long ago, in one of my dumber moments, I attempted to trackstand next to a carload of girls. I was showing off. I promptly toppled over and flopped around on the pavement, trapped in the pedals. The girls thought it was highly amusing. I’ve been wary of trackstands ever since.

I titled this ‘Ride like a kid!’ because I was thinking of my son. He’s still young enough to think he’s bulletproof and capable of nearly anything. I may get him a unicycle for his birthday. Who knows? Maybe he’ll work up a circus act!

Then I remembered a guy performing on a circus bike at a velodrome. He did all those things I just wrote about. He went backwards and forwards, sometimes riding the bike like a unicycle around the infield. The bike had a straight handlebar that he slapped. The fork started spinning as he pedaled in a big circle. It was amazing! Then he stopped, and switched the handlebar with the seat, remounted and pedaled away, steering with his butt!

Jordan would love to see that act. And he wouldn’t hesitate to try it. There’s no way I would consider it, of course, but maybe I’m getting too old to ride like a kid all the time.

Naaah! I just might try riding backwards!

Tuesday, April 05, 2005


Travis wrote regarding the bicycle commuting piece: “Reading the posts at Bike Forums helped answer the questions I had before I began commuting a year ago.” I haven’t been to the site yet, so any other feedback is welcome, as always.

A note about the ‘comments’ field: When I receive an email sent via ‘comments’, it doesn’t include a return address. I admit that I’m fairly new at blogging, so bear with me if I make some mistakes. If you want a reply, please include an address.

Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Last night’s weather report called for a 70% chance of rain today, and the current outlook calls for severe weather through the evening. Welcome to Oklahoma in the springtime!

I’ve lived here since 1987, and I’ve never seen a tornado, nor do I wish to do so. Spring storms always bring the possibility of tornadoes. When the weather turns nasty, I have a scanner tuned to the local police frequencies as well as the amateur frequencies used by the weather spotters. Doppler radar is a wonderful tool, of course, but it’s line-of-sight. Radar pulses travel in a straight line, so due to the curvature of the Earth the beam is farther from the ground as the range increases. And the ground is definitely where the action is when a tornado descends! Radar is an early detection system, but a spotter under a thunderstorm can be extremely valuable too.

What does all this have to do with cyclists? One word – lightning. OK, maybe three words – lightning and high winds. Wait! That’s FOUR words! Never mind.

Don’t think that your tires will protect you from a lightning strike. Would a lightning bolt that’s traveled thousands of feet through the air be deterred by a fraction of an inch of rubber? Not likely. You’re safer inside a car because lightning flows over the outside of the car body due to ‘skin effect’. On a bicycle, the only skin is yours!

Thunderstorms produce some high winds as ground level air gets sucked up by thermals. The cross winds can be fierce! Worse, a microburst can produce extremely high winds in a mater of seconds. A microburst is almost like a big drop of cold, dense air that hits the ground and splatters. The damage effects can mimic a tornado.

How can a cyclist deal with these conditions? Don’t get caught in the open. Use a radio scanner, television weather, NOAA weather radio, email alerts, or telephone alerts to keep abreast of changing conditions.

Now, having said that, I have to mention that we had a sever storm watch here in Tulsa this afternoon, and of course, the storm hit about 5 minutes before I was supposed to go home. I waited about 45 minutes before leaving and I got soaked.

Monday, April 04, 2005

"Yo, fixie!"

On Sunday, my son Jordan and I went to a Freewheel training ride in Tulsa. For those of you who don’t know, Freewheel is an annual week-long ride across Oklahoma in June. Several local clubs host training rides that increase in length each week. Yesterday’s was 15 miles. Jordan hasn’t been on the bike much this year, so I thought one of these early rides would do him good. He’d started the day with a slightly sore throat, but he wanted to do the ride.

In the parking lot, I saw a guy on a nice old Schwinn track bike. Hence the “Yo, fixie!” title up at the top. The owner, Sam, bought it back in the 60s and rode it on the streets of Detroit ‘old school’ style. No brakes. He wore a pair of heavy welders gloves that could be used to slow the bike by grabbing onto a wheel. The bike was gorgeous with those ornately carved lugs, but it was obviously well used. The decals were mostly gone, worn away over years of use. The chrome frame was pristine. I suspect Sam had a big pair of chrome ones too!

I told Sam that I rode a track bike on the street in Pittsburgh, but I never had the courage to go brakeless on those hills. I still don’t. Yesterday, for instance, I rode my ancient Pennine that will be my time trial bike next weekend. It has a brake on the front wheel, and the gearing is 47x18, for now. That may change depending on the wind conditions.

The group ride was fun. I saw a few people I know. The recumbent crowd was well represented, and of course there had to be one guy with his helmet on backward. Most of the route was cross-wind and this was welcome due to the stiff south wind. The down-wind sections were fast and fun! But the return to the parking lot would be right into the teeth of the wind, a hard, slow grind.

At roughly the half-way point, there’s a hill that the main group avoided. It’s a 7% grade and probably less than a quarter mile long. Jordan wanted to go up, so I followed. Normally he scoots right up a hill. He’s a far better (and far lighter!) climber, but he wasn’t feeling well. I scorched by him, flogging as hard as I could on the fixed gear. I ran out of ‘oomph’ just short of the top, but I had enough of a lead to stay ahead of Jordan.

He’s fourteen and weighs 155. When I told him I graduated from high school weighing 160, then showed him my senior picture complete with big, black geek glasses (favorite classes: physics and electronics - go figure!), he laughed long and hard!

A few miles further, the Yard Dogs From Hell put in an appearance, but it was a half-hearted attempt. We were well back in the stream of riders and the dogs were tired. Sometimes it pays to be off the front. Still, I put Jordan in front of me knowing the dogs would go for the last rider. They chased a little, but lost interest quickly.

I could see that Jordan was flagging as we did the long crosswind section, and on the final mile or so into the wind, he had great difficulty. I had him sit on my wheel as we ground along, and he did well up until the last hundred yards. He’d run out of ‘oomph’ too. Later that night he’d be coughing, his voice reduced to a whisper. I feel bad about taking him out, but at the same time, I’m proud of him for soldiering on when he was getting tired and sick. It’s always a joy to ride with my kids. Jordan and I share a lot of trash talking over hill climbs and sprints. It’s a guy thing, and he gives as good as he gets.

But to return to Sam’s brakeless Schwinn. The brake specification in Oklahoma law was changed to “Every bicycle shall be equipped with a brake or brakes which will enable its driver to stop the bicycle within twenty-five (25) feet from a speed of ten (10) miles per hour on dry, level, clean pavement.” This is an improvement over the old law that required a braked wheel be capable of skidding, but it may be open to interpretation regarding brakeless fixed gears. Clearly, Sam’s gloves could be considered a kind of brake, and equally clearly his legs are another form of brake. But I wouldn’t want to be in a situation where I had to make that argument in front of a judge.

I prefer two independent braking systems because I’m a firm believer in both Murphy’s Law and the Principle of Redundancy Principle. Murphy would have us believe that a single brake cable would fail while descending a steep hill, in the rain, on cobblestones, and a cleat would pop out of the pedal at the same time. Actually, I think that’s my worst case scenario for riding a fixed gear! It’s very difficult to clip in when the pedals are turning rapidly. Rough surfaces make it even more difficult.

Sunday, April 03, 2005


I was looking for bicycle-related news items on Google News, and came across a bunch of stories that had a common theme. “Gasoline is so expensive! Ah’m gonna get me a good bah-sickle!” And it’s true. When the weather warms up and gas prices rise, bicycle use goes up too. That’s not news to those of us in the saddle year-round, but for the sake of those contemplating using a bicycle for transportation, whether it’s regular or occasional, I went looking for a few resources to provide more information.

First, I’m not car-free. I live in suburbia and I have teenagers. An automobile is a necessity, but it’s not a necessity for EVERY trip. The grocery store is close enough that I can walk or ride my bike there. And I commute about 10 miles to work. These are my solutions and may not work for others. But almost anyone can substitute a bicycle for short trips. Consider this – an easy pace of 12 miles per hour means you can cover a mile in 5 minutes. For short trips, bicycle travel is comparable to a car. Just be aware that the simple joy of riding a bicycle can grow on you until suddenly you discover that those ‘long’ trips you found daunting at first have somehow become routine.

Using a bicycle for transportation or utility is an exercise in problem solving. How do I get groceries home from the store? How do I get work clothes to and from my office? What do I have to do to ride at night or in the rain? We each solve these problems differently. That’s why I won’t make equipment recommendations. I’ve tried panniers, backpacks, and messenger bags for instance, and each has advantages. You’ll find what works best in your own situation.

This first site is a straightforward list of bicycle commuting items.

Jennifer's Bicycle Commuting Suggestions
Here is a small list of suggested equipment for commuting (and/or doing errands, basic transportation, etc.) by bicycle. No one paid me for any of these endorsements.

This next one is from Arthur Ross, Madison’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator. It’s more comprehensive, (i.e. it takes longer to read!)

The bicycle is the vehicle of choice for thousands of Madison's workers and students. The bicycle is an excellent choice for commuting, providing personal travel at the times and to destinations desired. If you live within five miles of work or school, a bicycle is often the quickest and most efficient mode of travel. Many bicyclists commute longer distances as well. Commuting to school or work by bicycle can become an enjoyable part of your daily routine.

Finally, here’s John Allen’s “Street Smarts”, one of my favorites because it’s concise and very informative. It’s more about riding than equipment.

This compact tutorial, available as a 46-page booklet and in an online version, will increase your safety and confidence while bicycling on any road, whether you are a beginner or an expert. You'll have more fun and feel better about riding, be it for pleasure, fitness or transportation. It has been published in several editions and sold well over 300,000 copies. The most recent edition is available in print, and on this Web site.
There are lots of other resources, of course. One of the very best is another bicycle-commuter! If you know someone who rides to work, ask about the commute. Most cyclists are glad to share what they've learned. Feel free to contact me though the comments or e-mail features of this blog too.